The smoked cheese you produce on the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker is nothing like the "smoked, processed cheese product" you buy at the grocery store. Most have a dark exterior that is probably achieved by spraying a liquid smoke solution over the product.
Naturally smoked cheeses look about the same after smoking as they did before, with just the slightest tint of color. However, the smoke aroma and taste is much stronger than in commercial products, based largely on the type of smoke wood used and the amount of smoke applied.
Here are some pictures I took on December 16, 2000 when I smoked two types of cheese in the Weber Bullet. I want to thank Mark Born for providing the delicious wheel of Minnesota Farmstead Aged Gouda shown here and for sharing his tips on cheese smoking.
If you find the process described below to be tedious, and you like tinkering with projects, you might consider a Cold Smoker Conversion for the WSM.
As always...click on any of the pictures to view a larger image.
Selecting The Cheese
You can smoke just about any cheese you like. I chose a block of Tillamook sharp cheddar cheese, which is readily available at grocery stores throughout the West, and a wheel of Minnesota Farmstead Aged Gouda. I've heard that folks get good results with Swiss, Colby, Provolone, Mozzarella, Havarti, Jarlsburg, and Stilton. Whatever you decide, make sure to choose high-quality cheese.
Best results are achieved by smoking large chunks of cheese like those shown in Photo 1. The intense smoke flavor on the outside of the cheese will be balanced by the large amount of "inside" cheese that has no smoke flavor.
Choosing The Smoke Wood
Mild smoke woods are best for smoked cheese. Apple, cherry, alder, or a combination of these will work well. I found that hickory was too strong for my taste. I've not tried oak, but I've read it is sometimes used with cheese.
I used a single, large chunk of apple wood. In the past, I would soak a chunk like this in water for several hours, but I don't do that anymore. Just use a dry chunk of wood.
Mark Born suggests using apple for about half the time, then switching to cherry for the remainder to provide more color to the surface of the cheese.
Keeping Things Cool
The goal when cold-smoking cheese or any other food is to generate smoke without generating a lot of heat, keeping the cooker temperature below 90°F.
Choose a cold, breezy day or evening to make smoked cheese. This helps keep the cooker temperature down during smoking. Also, keep the cheese in the refrigerator until it's ready to go into the smoker.
Light 2-4 charcoal briquettes using a charcoal chimney or propane torch (Photo 2). When the coals are just lit—not fully lit and covered with ash—place a chunk of smoke wood on top of the coals (Photo 3). Lit coals placed on top of a large split piece of wood will achieve similar results.
With the smoke wood in place, assemble the cooker and insert the water pan, but leave it empty. Open all the cooker vents fully. Put the cheese on the top grate and monitor the cooker temperature carefully. Keep the temperature below 90°F to avoid melting the cheese. Smoke for 30-120 minutes, depending on the desired level of smoke flavor and how long you can maintain a sub-90°F temperature.
If the cooker exceeds 90°F, remove the lid for a moment or place the lid ajar on the middle cooking section, causing the cooker to lose heat. If this doesn't bring down the temperature, remove one lit briquette or replace the burning smoke wood with an unlit piece.
If the cheese begins to sweat during the smoking process, blot with a paper towel and make sure the cooker is running below 90°F.
If you click on Photo 4 to view a larger image, you'll notice three things. First, I'm using a Polder probe thermometer to measure cooker temperature. I ran the probe through half of a potato to hold the probe above the grate. Second, I placed the cheese on a piece of expanded metal sitting on top of the grate. I did this to provide a bit more support for the cheese, but putting it directly on the grate would have been fine. Third, you can see that I put ice cubes in the water pan to keep things cool. As it turned out, this caused condensation to form on the bottom of the pan which dripped into the coals. I removed the ice only a few minutes into the process and continued with the empty pan in place.
Photo 5 shows the volume of smoke coming out of the Weber Bullet using this smoking technique.
Who Cut The Cheese?
OK, I did. I cut the gouda and cheddar in half before putting them in the WSM. I thought I would smoke half the cheese for one hour and the other half for two hours so I could compare the aroma and taste. As it turned out, the cheese was almost too smoky for my taste after just one hour, so I removed all of it from the cooker. In case you're wondering, my WSM ran between 60-89°F during the hour.
The first time you smoke cheese, I suggest that you start in the 30-60 minute range and increasing the amount of time from there according to your personal taste. You may want to refrigerate the cheese overnight and taste it the next day to get a better sense of how much smoky flavor you actually applied to the cheese.
If you have the luxury of two Weber Bullets, you might try stacking the two middle cooking sections together as shown on the Increasing Cooking Capacity page and putting the cheese on the top grate. This would put greater distance between the cheese and the coals, helping to keep the cheese cooler during smoking. If you're really industrious, try the Cold Smoker Conversion project.
Does the cheese in this picture look smoked to you? It's just slightly darker than when it started, but the smokiness is very intense. Again, I want to warn you that the aroma and taste are very different than products you may have purchased at the grocery store, and you may not like this difference. But give smoked cheese a try on your Weber Bullet and judge for yourself!